Category Archives: Project 5 The manipulated image

Exercise: the manipulated image


Instead of using double exposures or printing from double negatives we now have the technology available to us to make these changes in post-production, allowing for quite astonishing results.

Use digital software such as Photoshop to create a composite image which visually appears to be a documentary photograph but which could never actually be.

To make a composite image you need to consider your idea and make the required amount of images to join together.

Upload the images and decide which image you’ll use as your main image and background. Use the magic wand to select sections of image from the others you wish to move into your background image. Copy via layer and drag into the background. Do this repeatedly until you have all the pieces of your puzzle in place. In order to make it more convincing, use the erase tool on each layer to keep the edges soft and to create a better illusion. Be aware of perspective and light and shadows for the most effective results.


In thinking about my response to this exercise, I did some research, starting with the suggested Peter Kennard Photo Op series. I also took inspiration from the C&N blog of a fellow student – Andrew Fitzgibbon (see here) – who had a nice response to the exercise showing something that didn’t exist, but which could exist. I liked this idea of stretching documentary photography just a little bit to show something plausible, yet non-existing.

Following on from Wendy McMurdo’s Young Musicians series, I also look at her more recent Algorithmic Children work where the manipulation becomes much more obvious and we move into the realm of fantasy.

Wendy McMurdo - Algorithmic Gym Hall (iv), 2015

Wendy McMurdo – Algorithmic Gym Hall (iv), 2015

Christopher Relander

Christopher Relander from Jarred & Displaced

Doing some Google searches eventually landed me at Christoffer Relander’s site and his Jarred & Displaced series. I really liked the idea of somehow taking nature and preserving it in a jar. Relander explains it like this: “I play with the idea of being an ambitious collector; conserving my environments into a large personal collection. Most landscapes are from where I grew up, on the countryside in the south of Finland, where my roots still lie. Separation anxiety to my childhood is simply what absorbed me into this project.”

From this inspiration came my idea of playing on the concept of the classic Swiss “chocolate box” landscape. Why not put such a landscape in the box? It’s a gentle take on the phrase “it does what it says on the tin”.



As luck would have it, I managed to find a Swiss chocolate box with a picture of the Matterhorn (known as Mont Cervin in the French speaking part), which I paired with a photo I took quite a few years ago. I spent far, far too long wrestling with layer effects and managed to get a kind of a glow. I think it more-or-less puts across the idea. The chocolates went to a good cause.



Exercise: Defining the Real in the Digital Age


Read the section entitled ‘The Real and the Digital’ in Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73–75. You’ll find this on the student website.

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth? Consider both sides of the argument and make some notes in your learning log.


Note: after not having much success finding the article on the student site, I used instead the section titled “Defining the Real in the Digital Age” in Wells (2015).

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth?

As Wells points out, “we have always known that photographs are malleable, contrived and slippery, but have, simultaneously, been prepared to believe them to be evidential and more ‘real’ than other kinds of images”.  If any doubt remains about just how long people have been tampering with images, the website Photo Tampering Throughout History is mandatory viewing. And yet, many people who well aware of such alterations still cling to a belief in some kind of connection between photography and objective truth. It is this kind of self-deception which is particularly interesting.

Joel Grimes - Jenifer Ann Burnett, Salton Sea

Joel Grimes – Jenifer Ann Burnett, Salton Sea

Roland Barthe’s conception of the nature of a photograph that it is trace of an event in the world was already on shaky ground considering the quite amazing manipulations carried out with film, but with digital technology, the illusion is completely shattered.

How does his concept hold when thinking about composited images (e.g. Joel Grimes)?. What about images constructed entirely using software? We could try and finesse the situation by saying that they are digital images –  they’re not photographs because they fail the basic definition of “painting with light”. That sounds a little desperate and old fashioned.

It’s possible to say that truth is an independent concept which is not dependent on photography in general and that any connections we had in our minds between the two was simply naive. We don’t demand that a painting or sculpture be “true” in any sense, so why should we demand it of photography?

Having said that, if we look at specific sub-genres of photography, we could say that truth is a very important, even essential, aspect independent of the exact medium: analogue or digital. Professional photography such as medical imaging (x-rays, for example) or crime scene photographs have a very specific purpose: to reveal detail and to be objective in order to allow decisions to be made. As Wells says, “It is possible to argue that the authenticity of the photograph was validated less by the nature of the image itself than through the structure of discursive, social and professional practices which constituted photography. Any radical transformation in this structure makes us uneasy about the status of the photograph.”

Perhaps the time is long overdue to drop any pretensions of objectivity and just think of photography as a medium for the creation of art, like any other medium. Susan Sontag (quoted in La Grange, 2005) noted that “photography, like other art forms, increasingly defines realism as not what is ‘really’ there, but what the artist ‘really’ sees. The answer is simply in our definitions: photography (excluding the sub-genres discussed earlier) never was about truth – it’s about art and there are no requirements on art to be truthful at all.


La Grange, A. (2005) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers. [Kindle Edition] From: (Accessed on 23 Nov 2016)

Wells, Liz (ed.) (2015) Photography: A Critical Introduction [Kindle Edition] From: (Accessed on 23.09.15)